Since the Arab Revolution started in December 2010, several countries in the Near East and North Africa have either forced their leaders to give up their power, protested against them or are still in conflict. Naturally, the archaeological work in these countries came to a stop during that time. In the case of Egypt, excavations are already continuing and although it is not clear, in which direction the newly elected president will lead the country, the political situation seems pretty stable at the moment. With Syria it is totally different. The uprisings of 2011 have grown into a civil war between the old regime and the opposition and at the moment there is no end in sight. The number of casualties is rising every week and the degree of destruction has already become unbearable.
Over 120 archaeological teams had to stop their work in Syria and it is not yet predictable when they will be able to return. As we have seen in the case of Iraq, it may not be possible for archaeologists to continue their work for a long time. Here, only since 2009 some solitary projects have started to excavate again. Instead, many projects shift their orientation to the work they can do from home: process the excavation data and publish the results. This might work well for terminated excavation trenches or completely recorded findings. It is another case for work that just started and was hoped to be continued and completed in one of the following seasons.
Stratigraphy for example is much easier understood in the field than from the plans and if a situation is unclear, the archaeologist can recheck it instantly. From the documentation material alone, the comprehension of a complicated situation can be quiet a challenge. In one of our recent projects we figured out, in which way a simple 3D-model can help to understand stratigraphic connections, architectural sequences and general relations between trenches. The archaeological excavation team of Mari under the direction of Prof. Pascal Butterlin assigned us with the creation of a 3D-model of the excavation trench V1 to help to understand the complex stratigraphic relations. Additionally, the team wanted to have a simple tool to easily present their results to a wider audience. Therefore, we converted the 3D-model into a Google SketchUp model to make the data as user-friendly as possible for the team to work with.
The archaeological work in Syria (and the whole Near East for that matter) is of major importance and although it is not possible to excavate at the moment archaeologists have to continue the work. The work we can do from home is a good and important step to maintain the research and the interest in these countries. In the case of Iraq or Egypt we slowly can continue the work and as I understand it, the cooperation between foreign and local archaeologists is still welcome. We can only hope that the situation in the other countries will resolve peacefully soon, primarily for the sake of the people living there and also for the cultural heritage they are preserving.
Image: © Sebastian Hageneuer